Looking Ahead to the AL East

With the Super Bowl over, the NBA and NHL playoffs two months away, and March Madness a month away, there really isn’t much going on in the sports world. This is the down time in sports where spring training is the next thing we look forward to.

Today marked “Truck Day” in Boston, a day where an 18-wheeler is filled with the baseball equipment and starts its drive down to Fort Myers for the start of spring training (which is 9 days away). Chances are Larry Lucchino will actually try to sell tickets to “Truck Day” next season.  Thousands of pink hats will pay $50 to sit on a curb and watch the equipment crew load a truck and then go home to friends saying, “I actually smelt the diesel!” Ok, I will relax.

To say that the Red Sox made big moves this off-season would be like saying Christina Aguilera only slipped up on the national anthem.  Unless you have been living under a pile of a snow this winter, (and that’s entirely possible) you know the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford.  They also revamped their bullpen bringing in Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Dennys Reyes, and Alfredo Aceves.  The Red Sox roster is as close to a dream team there can be for a team in Major League Baseball.  We have written about the Red Sox all winter and haven’t really talked about the rest of their division.

The AL East has been the most competitive division in baseball over the past 5 seasons. The Yankees, Rays, and even the Blue Jays have been as competitive as any contender.  While the Red Sox were making moves, the other teams in the division were active as well.  In case you haven’t been watching, here is a quick recap of what other teams in the AL East have done.

New York Yankees

Last season the mantra for Yankee fans was CC and Hughes, then pray for 3 days of rain.  Andy Pettitte started out 11-2 and then was injured and never fully recovered.  AJ Burnett and Javy Vasquez were equally awful.  Ivan Nova gave them hope for about a week and a half, but when it came playoff time the weak staff was exploited.  The Yankees will never lack in offense, although they are not getting younger.

This off-season started out with drama surrounding the re-signing of Derek Jeter. No one in baseball ever doubted that Jeter would re-sign, but the process took a lot longer than it had to.  He was eventually re-signed to a 3 year $45 million deal. They signed Russell Martin, a reclamation project after having surgery on his hip, to handle duties behind the plate. The Yanks also signed Andruw Jones hoping he could resurrect his career in the Bronx.

What did the Yankees do to improve their pitching? After whiffing in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, losing him to the Phillies, they harpooned Bartolo Colon, discharged Mark Prior out of the infirmary, and bailed Freddy Garcia out of the drunk tank signing them to contracts.  Going into spring training, the Yankees boast a starting rotation of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, Ivan Nova, and Sergio Mitre.

While I can crack as many jokes as I’d like at their lack of a rotation, the Yankees solidified their bullpen.  The best closer to ever take the mound re-signed with the Yanks to a two-year $30 million deal.  They then went out and picked up the American League Saves leader in Rafael Soriano to set up for Mariano Rivera.  While I think they may have over paid for Soriano ($33 million), they have effectively been able to make the game 7 innings as opposed to 9.

Off-season Grade- C

Toronto Blue Jays

GM Alex Anthopoulos pulled of the heist of the century by being able to get out from under the worst contract in baseball.  Back in December of 2006, the Blue Jays foolishly signed Vernon Wells to a 7 year $126 million dollar contract.  He also received a $25 million signing bonus. The contract is back loaded and he would receive $23 million in 2011, and $21 million in each of his final three seasons.  The problem is, Vernon Wells isn’t good! Anthopoulos was able to take advantage of a vulnerable Anaheim Angels franchise, sending Wells out west for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.  The Angels felt that Carl Crawford was all but theirs, but had the carpet swept out from under his feet by the Red Sox.  They then panicked and traded for Wells.This trade may not impact the Blue Jays this season but it will free up a lot of money for them to explore ways to improve their team.  They are no longer hindered by Wells.

The Blue Jays quietly have one of the best young rotations in baseball.  Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, and Jesse Litch are all under the age of 26.  They have a catcher that could be a favorite to win the Rookie of the Year in JP Arencibia, if he can learn to cut down his strike outs.  Also, let us not forget the Blue Jays have reigning home run king Jose Bautista (54 dingers) manning the hot corner.  The Jays did trade Napoli to the Rangers and got themselves a closer in Frank Francisco. They also have a strong bullpen with Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, and Octavio Dotel.  It wouldn’t at all surprise me if this young Jays team makes considerable strides and finds themselves in wild card contention.

Off-season Grade- B+

Tampa Bay Rays

No team lost as much as the Rays did this off-season.  They lost the best player their franchise has ever seen in Crawford to a division rival.  They traded shortstop Jason Bartlett to the Padres for 4 prospects. They lost their bullpen (Soriano, Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, and Chad Qualls) to free agency.  Carlos Pena signed with the Chicago Cubs.  They also traded their #2 starter Matt Garza to the Cubs for a slew of prospects.

With these decisions, it appeared the Rays were going with the all out youth movement.  This has worked repeatedly for the Marlins and it looked like the Rays were following suit.  They let Crawford go to open up room for top prospect Desmond Jennings (also a horse in the Rookie of the Year race).  They were allowed to move Garza because they too have a young, potentially strong rotation with David Price being the ace.  James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, and Jeremy Hellickson round out the staff.

But then the Rays went and did something very intriguing albeit bizarre.  They signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.  Both are on the obvious downsides of their careers but will make the AL East rivalries even more fun to watch.  The Rays have Damon penciled in to left field. Manny signed a 1 year $2 million deal (somewhere David Ortiz is smiling wide with his $12 million) to be the designated hitter.  Part of me feels that these signings were simply to put fans in the seats down at the Trop.  Most of the fans down there are displaced Red Sox fans, and they no doubt remember what each of those guys meant to the Red Sox franchise.  While Johnny Damon is a leader and will be a good role model for the younger players. Manny Ramirez? Not so much.

The Rays also lost their entire bullpen and don’t have anyone in it currently that is notable.  I feel they will lose a slew of games in the late innings because of that very reason.

Off-season Grade- D

Baltimore Orioles

I don’t know why but I will try to write about the red-headed step child of the American League East.  Just let it be known that there is a better chance of me buying a Justin Bieber CD than there is of the Orioles contending anytime soon.

Unfortunately for the Orioles, their biggest story this off-season was relief pitcher Alfredo Simon being charged with murder in the Dominican Republic.  I am not trying to make light of this in anyway and I am just speaking factually.

In the beginning of the off-season they made a typical Peter Angelos (owner of the Orioles) move and traded for Mark Reynolds. Reynolds hits dingers and that’s about it.  2 years ago he hit 44 while hitting .260 and striking out 223 times! Last year, he hit 32 home runs, but he batted .198 and struck out 211 times.  Sure, chicks dig the long ball, but fans don’t dig the rest of the stat line, and it sure doesn’t win baseball games.

The Orioles also traded for JJ Hardy, making him their starting shortstop.  This would have been fine back in 2008 when Hardy hit .280 with 24 home runs and 74 runs batted in.  His last two seasons have been less than mediocre hitting .268 and .229 with no power numbers or run production to speak of.  They also brought in Derek Lee to play first base who is coming off of injury.

The Orioles big signing would have to be Vladimir Guerrero and that’s for him to play DH ($8 million for one year. Once again David Ortiz is laughing with $12 million).  His days of playing the outfield are over as evidenced by his atrocious play in the World Series last year.  It is no secret that Vlad is breaking down and not even close to the player he once was.

For the Orioles, it looks like another year spent in the basement.

Off Season Grade- D-

Looking at the AL East on paper, there is absolutely no way the Red Sox should not win the division by any less than 5 games.  But the games still need to be played.  Last year the Red Sox had a very good team but were decimated by injury and fell short of the playoffs.  In sports, and especially baseball, anything can happen.  That is why the play the games.

9 days left until spring training.  The countdown to Opening Day has begun.

I can be followed on Twitter @ScottieNTCF


One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dodgers4Life, Scott Patterson. Scott Patterson said: Looking Ahead to the AL East: http://t.co/ZbDdE7H #RedSox #Yankees #BlueJays #Rays #Orioles […]

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